Around The Patch

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Written by Thayer Syme Around The Patch Column As seen in the May 2019 issue of Model Aviation.

Around The Patch

Bonus Video

milling a labyrinth in cherry as a gift
Milling a labyrinth in cherry as a gift for his wife, the author is quite pleased with the design and functionality of Stepcraft’s D.600 bench-top CNC system.

See A Short Video From Stepcraft

In My Last Couple Of Columns, I mentioned adding a Stepcraft D.600 bench-top CNC system to my workshop, and I am pleased to give you a more substantial update on that project this month.

The short version of the story is that it is now completely assembled and operational in my shop. If you aren’t interested in making parts for your models, or functional and decorative projects to use around the house or to give away as gifts, skip on down to the next section of this column or to the next column in this magazine.

I’ll be honest. With my son’s Boy Scout schedule and social calendar, some unexpected home and auto maintenance, the holidays, end-of-year tax season, and various other bits and bobs of real life, I let myself get distracted from this project for several months.

Yes, I read the manual—okay, I skimmed it—and I picked a bit at the parts inventory and initial assembly. What I hadn’t done was muster the energy to carve out some uninterrupted time to really get going. Like many looming tasks, the distractions—and yes, perhaps even some procrastination—resulted in a mental block that had quietly grown to out-of-scale proportions.

A couple of weeks ago, I moved the Stepcraft to the top of my priority list, sweeping my table saw outfeed table clean as a work space. Building the system there was an intentional resolution to finish the job before I needed the saw again.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with procrastination, when you do finally bite the bullet, get off your duff, and attack a lingering commitment, the result is often one of elation and relief. Less than an hour after getting started, I fully realized that the mountain that once stood before me was nothing of the sort. Even that quickly it was clear that this was not going to be difficult or time-consuming.

I had originally opted for the D.600 construction kit instead of a fully assembled and ready-to-run machine for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, I wanted to know all of its ins and outs so that I would be able to maintain the system at peak operational efficiency after it was in use. There is no substitute for getting your hands a little dirty and turning wrenches for a few hours when it comes to fully understanding any machine.

The second reason was economic. Someone has to assemble the machine and will be paid with either dollars or experience. Doing the work myself seemed to be an obvious choice. Did that also contribute to my sidelining it for a few months? Of course, but I’ll own the delay, lock, stock, and barrel.

After I was emotionally committed and walked into the workshop saying "today is the day" out loud, assembling the mechanicals, wiring, and installing the electronics happened as though I was on autopilot.

Stepcraft’s manual and step-by-step, video-based assembly guide are so thorough and clear that I can honestly say that this was likely the most satisfying customer-support experience of my life. In conversation after the completion, I likened the process to following a LEGO build manual, coupled with a professionally produced YouTube video for each step.

The parts inventory was complete, down to the last machine screw, washer, and preconfigured wire. There was never any confusion about what each step entailed. I can’t imagine giving Stepcraft less than an enthusiastic A+ for its product and presentation.

supporting the tip rib of a recent project
Supporting the tip rib of a recent project, the dihedral fixture discussed in the column is crafted from cherry and walnut with brass accents. Rare earth magnets provide additional stability with magnetic building boards.

Am I embarrassed about how long it sat in a corner of my workshop waiting for my attention? Absolutely. Regardless, I can unequivocally say that having it now ready for future projects has me excited and enthused about getting back into the shop.

Oh yeah, and the total elapsed time it took to bring the D.600 online? From joining the first two parts together that day until it was ready to go was just a few minutes past 14 hours. That included picking up my son at school after a robotics team meeting, his weekly Scout meeting that evening, and dinner in between. I doubt that it took much more than 10 hours of true shop time. Add in another hour or so of software installation and configuration on a repurposed laptop, and I was ready for my first test cuts.

So why did I want the Stepcraft, and what is it good for? That’s a valid question, and one asked in earnest by a friend who took the same breath to point out that I already had a laser cutter and a CNC mill. My immediate response was that my laser can’t cut Baltic birch, and the working envelope of my mill can feel restrictive.

the author mills formers and bulkheads
The author mills formers and bulkheads on his D.600 from 1/8-inch birch plywood for a .40- to .45-size World War I fighter. The plywood is secured to the spoilboard with double-sided tape.

I can now cut plywood formers and firewalls with automated precision. As great as the laser is, it won’t touch 1/4-inch plywood, let alone anything heavier. The Stepcraft can handle these with ease without burning the edges while I do something else in my shop.

The Stepcraft can also handle those pesky brass and aluminum fittings that are so often needed for our models, whether we are rigging biplanes and floats or making detail parts for a modern cockpit. It also has an effective working area that is more than three times that of my mill.

Collaboration Enriching Our Hobby

We are, in general, a social animal, sharing time with like-minded friends at flying fields, at club meetings, and online. This shared time and discussion counters our solo workshop time, bringing about many new ideas, projects, and products to enrich our hobby. I’m not sure how much the subject of the following paragraphs will count years from now, but it has been a fun exercise in collaborative design and manufacturing.

Zeke Brubaker, owner of Park Scale Models, reached out to me at the beginning of February and we discussed a number of topics, including his new line of magnetic building fixtures. We got to talking about additional accessories, and one that soon rose to the top was an upgrade from the often-awkward clamps and blocking that we use to set dihedral angles when joining wing panels.

I don’t know about you, but throughout the years I have used scraps of wood, paperback books, cardboard boxes, and even sticks superglued to tip ribs while setting dihedral angles. About the only thing I haven’t tried is making a hinged building board, though I know it has been done and remains an intriguing idea. I’ve thought about constructing a more elegant solution for a while, so our conversation provided the catalyst to try out some of my ideas.

Zeke and I chatted for a bit that afternoon. We emailed and texted a few CAD sketches back and forth, and soon arrived at two slightly different versions of the same solution. I’ve included photos of my initial prototype and will have a finalized product for sale on the Flying Models Plans Store website by the time you read this. Likewise, Zeke will soon offer his own version on Park Scale Models.

Thanks again for your time. I would love to hear about and share your current projects as well.



(203) 556-1856

Flying Models Plans Store

Park Scale Models

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